Our weekend in Toro Toro was absolutely amazing. I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Bolivia. It’s super underrated by tourists, but it is one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken.
Ciudad de Itas
On the first day we started by hiking a trail to a city of rocks that had been carved by the sea: Ciudad de Itas. According to our guide, the sea used to extend from Bolivia through Peru and Chile, but was cut off by the formation of the Andes. Lake Titicaca is all that’s left.
In the caverns and canyons of the rock city, people spent their time hiding their cows and maintaining rock paintings. We saw a lot of berries on our walk that our guide said were not poisonous. Apparently they’re more like Berttie’s every flavor beans – some are sweet but some are very spicy. We decided not to try them.
After the Ciudad de Itas, we had lunch at Cabanas Umajalanta, a small lodge on the way to the Caverna Umajalanta (Caves!!). It was a yummy traditional Bolivian lunch that was really well done.
This guy in Cochabamba who sort of works as a tour guide was giving us advice on the trip before we left. He scoffed at our choice of cell phone company and said that VIVA wouldn’t work if I took two steps outside of Cochabamba. How wrong he was! I had service in the middle of the mountains that let me video call Dan and show him the lodge. Pretty awesome.
We spent the afternoon in the caves, and this was the highlight of the trip. I’ve never been spelunking before, but I have a feeling this is some of the best cave exploring that exists. Things you will do in the cave:
- Crab-walk/crawl on your back through muddy pools of water to avoid grazing spiky stalactites inches above your face.
- Propel into the depths of the earth on ropes with knots in them.
- Walk across a piece of wood over an incredibly high drop. Remember the leap of faith Indiana Jones took in the Last Crusade? … it’s like that.
- Crawl through tunnels with a two foot diameter
- Look at blind fish that don’t get bigger than 6 inches (ok, that one’s pretty easy).
Because of all the crazy moves you have to make in the cave, you aren’t allowed to bring anything except your rented helmet and headlamp. You can bring your phone if it stays snugly tucked on your body somewhere, or a camera if it has a sturdy case (but this would be a pain, phones are much easier). It was such an incredible experience, and our guide Demerio was amazing. He’s a young guy studying the art of tourism at the technical institute in Toro Toro. One day he wants to lead tours in Machu Picchu and other places in South America. He didn’t speak English but we all have good Spanish skillz so it worked out great. I may now be a spelunking addict and already started looking up best caves to go to in the U.S.
El Vergel + Dinosaurs
Huelas del dinosaurios
On Sunday morning, before we left, we did El Vergel. The start of El Vergel is a small tour of the dinosaur footprints that Toro Toro is so famous for. The dinosaurs walked through mud, that then froze during the ice age to create the lasting footprints. My favorite was the brontosaurus mom and baby traveling together, reminded us of Land Before Time.
El Vergel itself is a large canyon that will definitely give you vertigo if you’re scared of heights like I am. Luckily it was not as scary to climb into as I imagined. They built some pretty decent steps to follow all the way down. Once into the canyon, you scramble over rocks until you reach this gorgeous waterfall. If you don’t mind icy waters and cold wind you can swim in the water (it’s probably better in summer). We ate our packed lunches of dry chicken sandwiches and sugar filled yogurt (not the best meal Bolivia, not the best), and relaxed for an hour. Then it was time to test our red blood cell count and hike back up. Slow and steady and you will make it eventually, (is what I tell myself every time I hike somewhere at this altitude).
GUIDE to Toro Toro
Overall it was an amazing trip. For those interested in going, here are some logistical details to help you: (NOTE: this is how you do the whole weekend booking things on your own for $72 USD. If you have extra cash you can buy an all-inclusive tour for about $150).
We left Cochabamba Friday at noon, and the journey took 4 hours. To get to the bus, take a radio taxi to the bus stop. Ask someone to call it for you or go to a nearby hotel’s taxi stand (radio taxis are safer than hailing random cars with taxi in their windshield). Tell the driver you want to go to “la parada donde salen para Toro Toro” (the stop where the minibuses leave for Toro Toro). Once there, there is a sign for Sindicato de Transporte Mixto Toro Toro Turistico, and a person sitting at a table who will give you tickets. They cost 35 bs (2019) and the minibus will leave as soon as it fills up. Definitely would NOT recommend taking the large tourist bus for a few reasons:
- It takes an extra two hours
- The roads are small and terrifying enough on a minibus
- Most days of the week it only leaves at one time in the lat afternoon, and is traveling those small terrifying roads in the dark.
Another Spanish word that will help you on your journey is: Dimenhidrinato (dramamine). If you have ever been car sick before, I can pretty much guarantee this trip will bring it out again. The dirt roads are super bumpy. You can buy dimenhidrinato at the local pharmacies in Cochabamba for a USD or two.
More good news to help you get through this trip is the stop they make about half way through. It’s a small town with a hole in the ground toilet whose sole purpose seems to be to sell things to people traveling to Toro Toro. There is an ice cream freezer with a not-too-sweet-yet-delicious coconut flavored popsicle called Ricoco … highly recommend.
Once in Toro Toro, you shouldn’t have much trouble finding your hostel whichever one it is. They’re all within a block or two of the bus stop. We stayed at hostel Edén for 80bs per night for a room with a private bathroom. The hostal has warm blankets, hot water, and included breakfast. The highlight of that breakfast was a banana smoothie that did not give us food poisoning, so definitely drink it.
Hostal Edén clearly had some sort of deal with El Molino because they kept sending us there for food. The dinner at their restaurant “El Dinosaurio” was great, and would highly recommend over the place we ate for dinner the next night, “Casa del Campo”.
Unfortunately our packed lunch from El Dinosaurio the next day was gross, so I recommend trying another place. Wherever you get your lunch from, just make sure you go to the place 30 minutes before you want it so you can leave on time for your tour.
The food at Cabanas Umajalanta for 25bs is definitely worth it when doing the Ciudad de Itas/Caverna Umajalanta circuit. Just tell your guide you want to reserve it and s/he will call the lodge for you that morning.
The Toro ‘Tour’o Itself
There is a tourism office about three blocks from Hostal Edén where you pay 120bs for a four day pass to the national park. It says on a sign out front that you have to register somewhere else first, but it’s not true you can just walk right in and buy your ticket.
Once you have that, you go to the guide office next door. If you get there at 7:30 on the dot you won’t have trouble finding more people to be part of your group. Otherwise, you might have to wait upwards of an hour.
Ciudad de Itas + Caverna Umujalanta
We had four people and decided to just split the cost (you pay 100bs for each “circuit”). It was 200bs total for Ciudad de Itas + Caverna Umajalanta, then another 100 the next day for El Vergel. For Ciudad de Itas and the caves, you also have to higher a car because it is about an hour drive to the rock city. This costs 360bs, and you split it among your group.
The canyon is within walking distance from Toro Toro (about 5km to the base of the canyon) so for that circuit you just pay for the guide.
- El Vergel pro tip #1: Don’t bring more than you need, it’s a rough hike back up.
- El Vergel pro tip #2: You will get hot even if the day starts out cold, leave the coat at home.
At the caves you rent a hard hat and headlamp for 15bs. There is also a locker there where you can leave your things. It’s probably best to bring your own headlamp for extra light in case you get one that isn’t very strong.
Getting Out of Toro Toro
Less than a block from Hostal Edén (and from pretty much everywhere else, it’s a tiny town center) you can catch a mini bus leaving for Cochabamba. It’s the same price to get home, 35bs, and it’s the same procedure of putting your name on a list and leaving when the bus is full. I heard that these minibuses break down fairly often, but we didn’t have a problem (just passing along the rumor). Once you get back to Cochabamba, hail the first radio taxi you see to get home.
I hope this guide helps you. Have a great trip!